Jesus Brought Sweet Potatoes: Seeing Jesus in John, Tammy, Dominic, Lisa, Becky, Rita and Sarah

After reading my post, “Handouts Do Not Equal Social Justice,” my friend Billy shared on Facebook that he dislikes my blog because I am often critical toward the church.  This post is dedicated to Billy.

I could not sleep on Wednesday night and was up facebooking with Billy about why I am critical of the church.  The main reason is that I see so much suffering and in the midst of it all the church seems so apathetic.  I was having a little pity party via Facebook because no one responded to my post about my friend Al, which may or may not have been a bright idea.  However, as I have shared in the past, I believe lament is a perfectly acceptable form of communication with God.

If I were a psalmist, my lament would have sounded something like this “Lord, why have you abandoned me?  My brother is Christ is attacking me!  People are starving all around me.  Your body lies asleep in its crystal palace while your children cry out in the desert.  Lord, where are you in my time of need?” Some may see the sharing of frustration with God as a lack of faith but others of you will find my willingness to be honest about the hard places of faith as refreshing.  If you are the former, please refrain from preaching to me about waiting on God.  You needn’t worry about me.  The Holy Spirit has a way of slapping me upside the head without any commentary from human observers.

That slap upside the head came when I arrived in Hillside Court on Thursday afternoon through a guy named John.   John is the guy in the photo.  I met John last month when we helped to furnish his home.  The day I met him, he brought us all to tears with his heartfelt gratitude.  There was a huge grin across John’s face as he worked with our other team members to assemble nearly 20 bags of fresh produce.  I had forgotten that when I was at Salisbury Presbyterian church last weekend, I had shared with Tammy, who is on staff at Salisbury, that my friends in Hillside needed food.  On Tuesday, Tammy and her team from Salisbury harvested food at Shalom Farms, a non-profit that operates a wonderful community garden.   Dominic, the Executive Director of Shalom Farms agreed to donate all the sweet potatoes, okra, bell peppers, and collard greens that Salisbury harvested to Embrace Richmond at Salisbury’s request.  So when I walked into Hillside, our community members had sorted the vegetables and were breaking into teams to deliver the bags.   Each team member took two bags.  One bag was for a resident that we knew was in need, and Al was at the top of the list.  Then everyone was given a “blessing” bag and instructed to simply give it to whomever God put in their path.

Something about John’s smile and energy drew me to him.  This was a man who a few months ago did not have a bed to sleep on and here he was blessing others.  He was bubbling over with excitement.  He said to me, “I love helping other people, especially the old folks.”  As he exited the apartment of one of the elderly residents there was a spark in his eyes.  I could see Jesus spirit moving through him.  It was at that moment that God opened my eyes.  My heaviness over this past week has been around my friend Al, whom I shared has stage four lung cancer.  I was fearful that Al would be all alone in his suffering.  I had been asking, “Lord, who will be Jesus to Al?”  And there was Jesus staring me in the face, through the eyes of big John.  I expected Jesus to come in the form of a middle class Christian, who could drive Al to appointments, help provide food, and be a companion to Al on this difficult journey.  But, Jesus showed up in the form of a materially poor but spiritually rich man named John.

John has the time, heart, and desire to be Jesus to my friend Al. My fear of Al being forgotten and lonely, vanished as I watched our amazing Hillside team scurry through the neighborhood looking for someone to bless.  It was a beautiful site!

However, John and the rest of our Hillside team lack the material resources to address Al’s on-going need for food and transportation.  Enter, Lisa.  Lisa read my pity party remarks on Facebook.  She was moved by my lament and has offered to meet Al’s need for food during his time in treatment.  God used Lisa not only to ministry to Al, but also to speak into my life in my time of discouragement.  Like me, Lisa has a very demanding job in full-time ministry.   She took time out of her day to encourage me and it was exactly what I needed.  My fear of Al starving to death also vanished.

We had one more need.  Neither, John nor Al drive and it cost $3 round trip on the bus to go from Hillside court to MCV Medical Center where Al will receive his cancer treatments.  Enter the Embrace board members; Becky, Rita, and Sarah.  I happened to have a board meeting on Thursday, mentioned Al’s transportation challenge and they donated $80 toward transportation for Al, which should cover eight weeks of treatment.

I am no longer lamenting the apparent absence of Christ body in my friend Al’s life.  The body showed up!  Not the way I expected; but, perhaps in an even better way.  John will have the pleasure of ministering to Al.  Lisa ministered to me. And you all have the pleasure of seeing how every part of the body can and should work together.  I admit I have a tendency to focus on what is not working with the church and on those Christians who are more concerned about their own comfort than about caring for people like Al.  Thanks Billy for reminding me to also look for what is good.

So thanks, John, The Hillside Community Team, Tammy, Salisbury Presbyterian Church harvesters, Dominic, Shalom Farms, Becky, Rita, Sarah, and all of you who prayed for Al.  You are a beautiful body and I am blessed to see you at work in the world.  I pray my words never diminish the marvelous spirit that may sometimes seem to be lying dormant in our community.

I learned a valuable lesson this week.  Still not sure exactly what that lesson is but I am sure I learned something from all this.  Perhaps you can help me.   What lesson did you learn from this tale?  Where did you see the body of Christ at work in your world?

I want to thank all of you who commented on my last few posts both here on the blog and on Facebook.  If you don’t mind, could you leave your comments here so that others who read the blog from other entry points can see the comments of all?  While I love Facebook, some use Twitter or other connecting places to follow this blog and I don’t want them to be in the dark and miss out on the great comments you guys are sharing.

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13 Comments

Filed under Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry

13 responses to “Jesus Brought Sweet Potatoes: Seeing Jesus in John, Tammy, Dominic, Lisa, Becky, Rita and Sarah

  1. Howard P

    What lesson did I learn?

    I learned/witnessed that if you lay your self out there (lay your life down) for another, as you did for Al, and if the care and concern is inspired by God’s heart, you will experience death and resurrection in responding to it, just as Jesus did in expressing the heart of a God “who so loved the world”. First you were criticized by someone who has problems with your blog, and by Wed. night that criticism contributed to disappointment that nearly buried your hope for Al. Then you encountered a living expression of the risen Christ in John, and your hope for Al was resurrected. Then Christ’s resurrection power began manifesting through the persons of Tammy, Dominic, Lisa, Becky, Rita, and Sarah……multiple cells in Christ’s being rallying to meet a “body” need.

    Interesting how you write, “I expected Jesus to come in the form of a middle class Christian, who could drive Al to appointments, help provide food, and be a companion to Al on this difficult journey.” I had the same idea in mind when I first read your story about Al, even praying about whether or not I might be that companion. I think this image probably emanates from a place in my mind that is very, very close to maturing beyond the idea that it’s going to be middle-class whites who rescue “the hood”…….but I do get hung up in that picture from time to time.

    I like your story because it is a beautiful example of what I too am learning about my role in relating to people in impoverished communities. As I imagine all the resources in the world I grew up in, it is logical to imagine that my role is to bring people with more than enough material resources into direct relationship with people in need. While I continue to believe that this will indeed be a big part of God’s equation, your story is the proverbial “picture worth 1000 words” that reveals a deeper dimension of how God is using “connectors” in the city, using you first to build a bridge of love and trust between two people already living in the same neighborhood, and then drawing the resources to the table that further empower them to BE LOVE to one another.

    “Some may see the sharing of frustration with God as a lack of faith but others of you will find my willingness to be honest about the hard places of faith as refreshing.”

    Coming to mind……”Father, father, why hast thou forsaken me?”. Jesus was human and divine. There is no way that he could have been truly in touch with the world he served if he did not share in the experience of our human doubts. God desires us to “keep it real”, with him/her (masc. and fem. qualities of God) and one another. To me, your willingness to share faith crises through particular trials is actually a testimony to the strength, closeness, and security of your relationship with God. When we feel secure in relationships with anyone, God included, we are not afraid to share how we really feel about a situation we are experiencing together. When we are insecure, we play scared and pretend things are better than they are.

    I see your honesty as rooted in the security of a relationship with God that has evolved to the level of both a partnership and friendship…..don’t mean to label it just sharing the spirit of what comes through to me when I read. I suppose that once we know we have yielded our whole lives to him there is less of a need to put on appearances to please him. Then, it’s no longer a matter of trying to make or keep God happy with us, rather “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” [Phillipians 2:13]

    Appreciate your continued, honest sharing.

    • wmccaig

      Thanks Howard,

      love what you saw in death and resurrection. I was concerned it looked more like bi-polar disorder to the outside world. I also love your take on allowing our doubt to be public. I have read a lot about creating space for doubt and I think the only way we do that is to model what that looks like. If we pretend that God is always answering all our prayers right when we want, then we are not being real and i think we create a space in which others do not feel they can be real. Thanks for your excellent comments and observations.

  2. sharon

    I once read a book by joan chittister titled born to question she is a catholic nun who wrestled with the churches treatment of women who feel called to serve. She wrote how the frustration and turmoil inside of us is meant to bethere.. its the holy spirit in us. When we question and don’t accept the status quo we are enlightened and informed and we can create change. Wendy, you have shown me that time and time again.

  3. Tonya

    I have read this post and the ones which led up to it. I truly admire what you are doing in the community, Wendy. the lesson that you learned which you have stated you cant see is simple: You aksed for God to help Al and he did. But not in the way you wanted. Jer 29:11 says he doesn’t do things are way, but it is always for the better. Rom 8:28. For those who have answered Al’s prayers their blessing will be greater, for none are aksing Al for repayment. A deed done from the heart is greatest gift of all.

    As for me, I learned that I need to voice some needs for the patients that I work with as well.
    Some have housing needs, others keeping up utilities and/or food. Lastly is housing. The struggle in my field is that the resources are scarce and those who used to provide such services are no longer funded due to govt limitations on money. I have to start thinking outside box, but most church agencies have been depleted of their funds for assistance as well. Maybe we can have a conf call to collaborate : I am one person but I am one who cares.

  4. Sarah

    Wendy – You commented early in the post that you see so much suffering and in the midst of it all the church seems apathetic – I think the main problem is that “the church” – meaning its members – don’t see the suffering and therefore aren’t moved to help. Americans in general do help when a crisis is in front of them – Haiti, 9/11, etc, but when we are in our bubble worlds sheltered from poverty and other sufferings, we aren’t moved to help. I am not saying this to make excuses for this behavior – just to attempt to explain. This is part of why I love to be part of Embrace – it provides a way for “the church” to see firsthand the struggles of others and gives a way for them to help. I think we have to focus, as Embrace does, on widening the circle of people who understand the suffering, and we will see the apathy wane.

    • wmccaig

      I think you are on to something. I spent the day praying about all this and God led me to a similar conclusion. I am going to try to put it into words in the next few emails. Thanks for your words of confirmation.

  5. Steph Rice

    Wendy, I found myself nodding my head several times while reading this post. I too am unhappy with the majority of the churches I have visited or been a part of. There are few churches I have seen that focus on the needs of those around them. They are really good at loving God, but seem to have a hard time loving their neighbors, even themselves. And by loving I mean sharing Jesus with them through action, not just words. Some churches are very successful at service, but those that I have seen that don’t reach out have many internal problems. I strongly believe that churches are meant to do social justice and Al’s story is proof of that.

    The fact that people were willing to reach out and give love to Al and to you, Wendy, is proof to me that God exists. When people show love to others they are being Jesus to them. I am currently studying the life of Jesus through the Gospels in seminary and if nothing else is true in the Bible (seminary makes you ask these kinds of questions), the fact that Jesus did social justice and loved those no one else would is enough for me. I commend you and all those who are helping Al and Embrace and all those who are hurting because of an unjust world. Jesus did not just proclaim God’s message, He lived it and as Christ followers we are meant to do the same.

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